Crisis? What crisis? – A look at Feyenoord’s start

Feyenoord’s first three Eredivisie matches have produced 0 points and, in time honoured fashion, there have already been plenty of words produced to describe and justify Feyenoord’s decline. AFTER THREE MATCHES! After the defeat in De Klassieker by Ajax in Amsterdam, I return to a subject I have written about before, namely the propensity of both media and fans to make conclusions on the basis of samples which are far too small.

Feyenoord coach Ronald Koeman has endured a difficult start to the season.

Feyenoord coach Ronald Koeman has endured a difficult start to the season.

As I have written before, the league table, and thus points totals lie throughout much of the season because of a combination of different schedule strengths and random variation. One way of controlling for this in a crude way is to simply compare this season’s results with the exact same fixtures from last season – the so-called ISG coefficient.

If we take this very simple approach and apply it to Feyenoord this season, we find that they lost at PEC Zwolle, drew at home to FC Twente and lost at Ajax in 2012/2013. So, the club are currently a point down on what they achieved from these fixtures last season. Even Ajax head coach Frank de Boer said prior to Sunday’s match that “defeat for Feyenoord will lead to crisis in Rotterdam”.  It would be nice to think that Graziano Pellè has read my stuff as he knew this when speaking at last weekend’s post-match press conference.

These results, which as I have already mentioned, are virtually the same as those of last season, have led to all sorts of soul searching – Feyenoord don’t have enough creativity, there is no enjoyment or passion amongst the players, they should have made more signings, and so it goes on. Even last season’s top scorer Pellè doesn’t escape criticism with one reporter suggesting that Feyenoord ought to have been able to sign someone better. Who that player might have been is not mentioned.

However it is the 21-year-old Stefan de Vrij for whom the most criticism is reserved. De Vrij, who played six times for a very successful Dutch national team last season was sent off against Twente provoking furious reactions afterwards. De Vrij’s reputation has changed from being a player linked by the media with a move to Chelsea nine months ago to one who suffers from lack of concentration and experience. At least, this is what we are told.

The fact is that these three results are nothing out of the ordinary as illustrated by similar results in the same matches last season. It is the fact that they are the first three matches of the season which makes them stand out and leads to false conclusions about their importance. A tough start to the season for the Rotterdammers has produced little return, as perhaps we could all have expected. Is it likely to affect Feyenoord’s likelihood of claiming a top four position again? Unlikely and that is the other side of the coin here. Expectations amongst supporters and media can be sky high at the beginning of the season and Feyenoord were perhaps expected to ‘make the next step forward’ but why should they? Where is the evidence that this would be the case?

Stefan De Vrij and Jordy Clasie in happier times for the Rotterdam giants.

Stefan De Vrij and Jordy Clasie in happier times for the Rotterdam giants.

Feyenoord are the fourth best team in the Netherlands according to the respected Euro Club Index ranking of clubs and have actually overperformed during the last two seasons, finishing second and third. Statistical analysis suggests that clubs perform similarly from one season to the next so a top four finish with some random variation on which position should again be expected for Feyenoord. Given this, the results of Feyenoord’s first three Eredivisie fixtures – two against better opposition than themselves and the other one away from home – would be nothing out of the ordinary if distributed throughout the season and would probably go unnoticed.

If the club are knocked out of the Europa League next week by Russian Kuban Krasnodar, it is possible that the crisis talk will continue even if NAC Breda are vanquished this weekend. However, drawing the Russians was the worst possible draw as they aree not only the sole club amongst the unseeded teams to be ranked in the Euro Club Index top-100 but they are also significantly higher than Feyenoord. Krasnodar are rated the 51st best team in Europe according to that index – better than Internazionale – with Feyenoord 35 places lower in 86th. Amongst the Eredivisie clubs, only Ajax and PSV are ranked higher than Kuban.

So, the chances are that the ‘crisis’ will continue but it is built on little solid evidence that Feyenoord have declined. Instead, cherry picked incidents and situations are used to explain a supposed decline and this story will roll on until it is no longer feasible to do so. With the Krasnodar tie, this could be for a while despite the likely improvement in Eredivisie results given Feyenoord’s opposition over the next month. I see no reason to think that Feyenoord will not end the season in the Eredivisie’s top four. Any other analysis of the current situation is just Scoreboard Journalism.

This is a longer version of the article which appeared in Dutch as the first piece this season on De Volkskrant’s blog De 16. Simon Gleave’s excellent blog, Scoreboard Journalism, can be found here.

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